FRANCIS IN AMERICA
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
By JIM YARDLEY and LAURIE GOODSTEIN
OCTOBER 2, 2015
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’encounter with Kim Davis last week in Washington, which was interpreted by many as a subtle intervention in the United States’same-sex marriage debate, was part of a series of meetings with dozens of guests and did not amount to an endorsement of her views, the Vatican said on Friday.
Ms. Davis — the Rowan County, Ky., clerk who defied a judge’s order and refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples — was among the guests ushered into the Vatican’s embassy for a brief meeting with him, the Vatican said.
“The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis, and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said in astatement released on Friday morning.
Ms. Davis’s case has become a focal point in the debate over the tensions between religious liberty and marriage equality in the United States. Her lawyer said in a telephone interview on Friday morning that a church official had initiated the meeting and that he had been told it was at the request of Pope Francis.
Father Lombardi, in his statement, played down the meeting and said it had been arranged by the Nunciature, the Vatican Embassy, in Washington.
“Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City,” Father Lombardi said.
He added: “Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.”
The news of the meeting was disclosed late Tuesday night by Ms. Davis’s lawyer, Mathew D. Staver, at the same time it was reported on the website of Inside the Vatican, a conservative publication edited by an American who has covered the Vatican for years.
Kim Davis during an interview last month.
BRENDAN MCDERMID / REUTERS
For nearly eight hours, Vatican officials refused to confirm or deny that the meeting had occurred, before finally confirming it on Wednesday afternoon.
The news of the meeting buoyed Christian conservatives, who had been dismayed that the pope, in his emphasis on the poor, barely mentioned issues like abortion and homosexuality during his visit to Washington, New York and Philadelphia. It also puzzled and angered more liberal observers.
It also led observers of the Vatican to speculate about whether the encounter with Ms. Davis was a signal of support for her cause. Francis has emphasized that he strongly believes in conscientious objection as a human right, a position he reaffirmed on his plane ride home.
On Friday, the Vatican appeared to be distancing itself from Ms. Davis’s camp. Father Lombardi’s statement said that the brief meeting “has continued to provoke comments and discussion,” and that he was providing clarification “in order to contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired.”
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The Vatican’s statement prompted reactions on both sides of the Atlantic.
In a phone interview on Friday, Mr. Staver said the meeting had been called by the Vatican.
Mr. Staver said the request had come on Sept. 14, the day Ms. Davisreturned to work after her release from jail.
At the Vatican on Friday, a spokesman, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, said the invitation had been extended by the office of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the nuncio, or envoy, in Washington, not from Rome.
“Who brought her in? The nuncio,” said Father Rosica, who is working with the Vatican’s media office in advance of a major meeting of bishops that begins this weekend. “The Nunciature was able to bring in donors, benefactors.”
Father Rosica said of the controversy: “I would simply say: Her case is a very complex case. It’s got all kinds of intricacies. Was there an opportunity to brief the pope on this beforehand? I don’t think so. A list is given — these are the people you are going to meet.”
Mr. Staver, for his part, said he had been briefly introduced to Archbishop Viganò in April, when he spoke at a large rally in Washington against same-sex marriage, before the Supreme Court ruled on the issue.
The Rev. James Martin, editor at large of the Jesuit magazine America, had cautioned in an article this week that the pope meets many well-wishers on his trips, and that news of the meeting with Ms. Davis had been manipulated.
“I was very disappointed to see the pope having been used that way, and that his willingness to be friendly to someone was turned against him,” Father Martin wrote. “What may originally have prevented them from issuing a statement was the desire not to give this story too much air. But what they eventually came to realize was that they needed to correct some gross misrepresentations of what had happened. It shows that Pope Francis met with many people on the trip, and that she was simply another person who he tried to be kind to.”
Father Rosica’s statement seemed to square with that account.
Asked on Friday if the Vatican press office had been unaware that Ms. Davis had met the pope, Father Rosica said: “No, but I think we may not have been aware of the full impact of the meeting. It is very difficult sometimes when you are looking at things in America from here.”
A receptionist who answered the phone at the Vatican Embassy in Washington on Friday said, “The nuncio does not deny that the meeting took place, but would not make any further comment.”
She said the embassy did not have its own spokesman, and that no other officials there would comment.
Jim Yardley reported from Vatican City, and Laurie Goodstein from New York.